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September 17
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Spider-Man Swings into Europe for FAR FROM HOME

By TREVOR HOGG

Mysterio combines the magic of Dr. Strange and the armor of Thor in an effect to portray himself as the greatest superhero. (Images courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Rather than the New York City-centric adventures of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the following effort that reunites filmmaker Jon Watts (Cop Car) with Visual Effects Supervisor Janek Sirrs (The Matrix) goes across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe when Peter Parker (Tom Holland) embarks on a class trip that gets interrupted with supernatural beings known as Elementals that can control earth, wind, water and fire.

“Jon’s approach was to always keep Peter/Spider-Man as grounded as possible,” states Janek Sirrs about Spider-Man: Far From Home. “Given the often ridiculous nature of the events Peter was party to, it really helped if the audience was always able to connect with a real teenager in there. And while we’d give Spider-Man his fair share of super heroics, Jon would always want to include some errors, off-balance moments and, most importantly, some poor tactical decisions, to help convey that his character is still learning what it is to be a full-on Avenger.

The Illusion Sequence where Mysterio exploits the fears and insecurities of Peter Parker was the responsibility of Framestore. 

“We shoot what we know based upon the storyboards and vis we have at that time, and then simply continue to refine sequences in postvis, often completely throwing out original ideas and replacing them with brand-new concepts and action. That can often result in a boatload more fully-generated imagery and/or new elements in additional photography. One example would be, Spider-Man ending up actually inside the big Voltron Elemental at Tower Bridge, which was a late-breaking idea toward the end of post-production. The postvis team immediately switched back into previs mode to bang out ideas as fast as possible.”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

“To be honest, the distinction between previs and postvis is disappearing these days,” notes Sirrs. “We shoot what we know based upon the storyboards and vis we have at that time, and then simply continue to refine sequences in postvis, often completely throwing out original ideas and replacing them with brand-new concepts and action. That can often result in a boatload more of fully-generated imagery and/or new elements in additional photography. One example would be, Spider-Man ending up actually inside the big Voltron Elemental at Tower Bridge, which was a late-breaking idea toward the end of post-production. The postvis team immediately switched back into previs mode to bang out ideas as fast as possible.”

Elementals needed to be rendered in a high degree of detail and polished to determine what was to be retained and modified. “We had to develop fast-to-render intermediate solutions that looked compelling enough for the viewer, but which didn’t break the render bank,” reveals Sirrs. “One major creative issue with the Elementals early on in the picture was that Peter couldn’t actually be seen to interact with them as they were holographic projections, not physical beings. That meant devising the action in such a manner that we avoided any such direct contact, but somehow still kept Peter Parker/Spider-Man engaged in a dramatic fashion.”

A major source of inspiration for the Illusion Sequence was the Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Amuck.

Making an appearance on the big screen for the first time is Quentin Beck/Mysterio portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal. “The original comic book backstory of Mysterio being a disgruntled Hollywood special effects wizard and a failed actor definitely needed updating for a more modern audience,” observes Sirrs. “The trick was finding some level of MCU tech that would still permit him to pull off all of the fancy illusions. We ended up re-purposing the BARF hologram tech that Tony [Stark] uses in a previous MCU outing, and then reinforcing it with drones to create physical events. As for Mysterio himself, we figured that he’s really a wannabe showman – think Liberace with superpowers. Mysterio thinks he can be the best superhero of them all by combining the characteristics of several of them. That is why you’ll see some aspects of Dr. Strange in there, or suggestions of Thor’s armor.”

Territory Studio provided the various computer graphics and UI. 

“The Illusion Battle sequence was probably the most fun to conceive and work on as it wasn’t something that had been seen in a previous Spider-Man movie, and there were no annoying rules that we had to follow. Also, anytime you can use a Daffy Duck cartoon (Duck Amuck) as a major source of inspiration you know you’re off to a good start!”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

Scanline VFX handled the Venice sequence featuring Mysterio and Hydro-Man. “Janek gave us a lot of creative freedom, and we could pitch ideas on how an effect could look like,” notes Scanline Visual Effects Supervisor Julius Lechner. “We had the previs early, so we knew what would be CG and plate-based.” New features had to be written for the proprietary water-simulation software Flowline. “The main thing that we had to change was letting water conform to Hydro-Man’s character, but also be controllable and readable –  that was always a fine balance. It had to be somewhat chaotic, however you still need to be able to understand that the character has a head and arms, and is doing something active.”

Julius Lechner, Visual Effect Supervisor, Scanline VFX

A basic animation puppet was developed for Hydro-Man that was a combination of motion-capture and keyframe animation. “With our new features we could say that the water will follow 100% to the animation puppet and will never detach or fly away, to it being very loose and you can barely see what’s going on,” remarks Lechner who had to produce multiple levels of water simulations. “They were independent simulations running at the same time. We usually simulated the base water first to give us the underlying churning water structure and on top of that simulated spray, foam and mist. When the spray falls back into the water that created another simulation of impact mist.”

Previs and postvis were created by The Third Floor, such as this shot when Spider-Man confronts Mysterio and his drones. 

Breaking from the normal routine of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, the production did not rely heavily on soundstages. “All that location shooting was a bit of a double-edge sword,” states Sirrs. “On the one hand you have real places with real textures, but that’s easily countered by issues such as crowds of tourists in places like Venice, or some places being impractical to shoot, like Tower Bridge in London. It was obvious that we’d end up replicating several of the hero locations digitally so that we could realize all the shots and angles that we’d ultimately need. So our attitude was essentially scan everything.”

Seemingly endless discussions were had between visual effects, special effects and stunts departments. “For example, production recreated a section of Venice Grand Canal waterfront over the water tank at Leavesden Studios in the U.K., and special effects were responsible for all the on-set practical water interaction gags,” remarks Sirrs. “However, some events were always going to need to be bigger scale than special effects could realistically provide, or at least do so in an actor-safe fashion, so it was about finding a balance between practical and digital water effects.”

Previs was critical in figuring out the interaction between Spider-Man and the Elemental creatures. 

Following in the tradition of Iron Man, Spider-Man gets a new suit for each of his cinematic outings. “The ‘stealth’ suit was theoretically fabricated by Nick Fury’s team, so it had a decidedly more SWAT/tactical outfit quality to it, made out of real-world fabrics such as ballistic nylon, and deliberately dumbed down with items such as a knitted ski mask,” explains Sirrs. “All of which meant that for once we could actually fabricate a practical version of the suit for dialogue scenes and have it play as is, wrinkles and all, without the need for any digital enhancement [beyond animating eyes]. The final ‘hybrid’ suit was more what folks expected a Stark-tech Spider-Man suit to be, only this time fabricated with Peter at the design controls instead of Tony, and that meant constant seam and wrinkle paint-out on the practical costume version.

“What we couldn’t know when the practical costume was being designed and fabricated was how much damage it would ultimately acquire during the final battle sequence, let alone that we’d set it on fire at one point. This meant that for the aftermath scene with MJ [Zendaya] on the bridge we had to completely replace the clean practical costume that Tom Holland wore on set with a digital charred, melted version.”

Rising Sun Pictures produced holograms such as this one, which illustrates the destruction of the home planet of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) that is shown to Peter Parker (Tom Holland). 

Around 2,200 visual effects shots were created by Scanline VFX, Luma Pictures, Sony Pictures Imageworks, ILM, Framestore, Image Engine, Method Studios and Rising Sun Pictures, ranging from the Elemental creatures to compositing actors into CG environments to solve production scheduling issues. “I’m sure the vendors had their own internal, more technical, mountains to climb, but on the production side the challenge is definitely more about keeping pace with an ever-evolving story/edit,” states Sirrs. “Case in point, we actually completed an entire action scene with Peter in the ‘Iron-Spider’ suit, fighting a bunch of Mafia-style goons in a restaurant. But in the last few weeks before final delivery it was dropped from the movie as it was messing with the overall pacing in getting to the European vacation. On the opposite end of the scale, we actually shot an entirely new scene with only two weeks left in post that of course required some rather nimble visual effects work.”

Luma Pictures created the Fire Elemental that appears in Prague. 

“The Illusion Battle sequence was probably the most fun to conceive and work on as it wasn’t something that had been seen in a previous Spider-Man movie, and there were no annoying rules that we had to follow,” reveals Sirrs. “Also, anytime you can use a Daffy Duck cartoon (Duck Amuck) as a major source of inspiration you know you’re off to a good start! That said, it did take plenty of time to land on the sequence you see in the final movie. The flip side of having no constraints meant that the sequence could have been literally anything, only limited by our collective imaginations. Long story short, we explored many ideas before settling on driving the narrative with Mysterio playing into Peter’s fears and insecurities. Only once we reached that point did a coherent sequence start to really take shape.”

The suit of Spider-Man needed to be digitally replaced at times so to ensure damage continuity.

Unfortunately, because of the evolving edit, the Restaurant Sequence that appears in the trailer does not appear in the final theatrical cut. 

“We actually completed an entire action scene with Peter in the ‘Iron-Spider’ suit, fighting a bunch of Mafia-style goons in a restaurant. But in the last few weeks before final delivery it was dropped from the movie as it was messing with the overall pacing in getting to the European vacation. On the opposite end of the scale, we actually shot an entirely new scene with only two weeks left in post that of course required some rather nimble visual effects work.”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

ILM handled the cut Restaurant Sequence that features the ‘Iron-Spider’ suit. 

Filmmaker Jon Watts wanted Spider-Man to do antics like taking a selfie to sell the audience on the idea that there was a real teenager underneath the costume.

The audience finally gets to see Spider-Man swinging around in Manhattan at the end of the movie. 

“What we couldn’t know when the practical costume was being designed and fabricated was how much damage it would ultimately acquire during the final battle sequence, let alone that we’d set it on fire at one point. This meant that for the aftermath scene with MJ [Zendaya] on the bridge we had to completely replace the clean practical costume that Tom Holland wore on set with a digital charred, melted version.”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

The new Stealth Suit worn by Spider-Man has a SWAT/tactical outfit quality. 

An animation puppet was developed by Scanline for Hydro-Man in order to have the water conform to his character, but also be controllable and readable.

It was important not to have direct interaction with the Elementals so not to break the illusion being created by Mysterio. 

“The original comic book backstory of Mysterio being a disgruntled Hollywood special effects wizard and a failed actor definitely needed updating for a more modern audience. The trick was finding some level of MCU tech that would still permit him to pull off all of the fancy illusions. We ended up re-purposing the BARF hologram tech that Tony [Stark] uses in a previous MCU outing, and then reinforcing it with drones to create physical events.”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

New features written for the proprietary software Flowline allowed Scanline to dial in and out the amount of control, from having water never detaching or flying away from the animation puppet, to being very loose.

For Scanline, when creating Hydro-Man it was important that the water be somewhat chaotic and have the audience understand that the character has a head and arms, and is doing something active.

“One major creative issue with the Elementals early on in the picture was that Peter couldn’t actually be seen to interact with them as they were holographic projections, not physical beings. That meant devising the action in such a manner that we avoided any such direct contact, but somehow still kept Peter Parker/Spider-Man engaged in a dramatic, engaging fashion.”

—Janek Sirrs, Visual Effects Supervisor

Various independent water simulations were run at the same time for spray, foam and mist.

Extensive location principal photography was conducted for Spider-Man: Far From Home with Venice serving as the setting for Hydro-Man. 

Read about the visual effects in Spider-Man: Homecoming here!

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